Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Cannot" vs. "can not"

Recently a reader emailed me the following inquiry:

I shared "The Leaf Catcher" with some colleagues yesterday. One thing we found interesting is your use of "can not" instead of the compound form "cannot." I interpreted your choice as a means of emphasis on the "not," but now I am just curious, Why did you choose to write it this way?

This is an often debated topic, but after much research I found that the quick and dirty answer is that "cannot" and "can not" can be used interchangeably, and it doesn't matter which form you use. But the reader was correct in their interpretation in that I choose to use "can not" to emphasize the "not."

As a side note, when I did a word search on the manuscript for "The Leaf Catcher" to find the occurrences of "not" I was amazed at how many times the word shows up throughout the story! Then I thought about it, and it made perfect sense. Of course the word "not" should be seen throughout a story that deals with negativity. The challenge in the beginning of the book is, "Can you go just one day without thinking a negative thought?" The sad truth is that you "can not," but you also "can not" let that stop you from noticing when you are letting negative thoughts get the better of you and trying to counter them with a positive attitude. Therefore, "not" can be used in a negative or positive sense depending on the context. And it is our perception and attitude that will determine which context we choose to use "not" in our affirmations.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Truly Noble Profession

     Authors are unique in that they are not competing in the market to put other authors out of business as other professionals do in most industries to maintain a competitive advantage and capture more market share. To the contrary, as authors we are inspired by each other as we share in the passion for the written word's ability to entertain and enrich our lives. As rich and diversified as there are different cultures and languages, so too are the diversity of stories and the style in which they can be told. It is the one industry in which we hope for more entries.

     True, if someone walks into a bookstore with only enough money to buy one book, we hope that our cover art and the description of what lies within will grab their attention; we need to make a living like everyone else. But we don't wish for the exclusion of other authors' success. Furthermore, as authors, we do not purchase our own books, but often buy, read, and recommend works of many other different authors. How many other professions would do this with their competitor's products?

     Therefore, we can be proud, my fellow authors, for ours is a noble profession in which all benefit from the success of one another. How might you benefit from the recent bestselling status of another author? We can all learn from each other and be inspired by a good story. And even if your work never attains a bestseller status,  writing has it's own intrinsic reward, not the least of which is a degree of immortality, as each book we put in print leaves a piece of ourselves for posterity.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Putting Things in Perspective

     If you have been following my blogs so far you know that my posts usually consists of thought provoking topics that invite or challenge you to consider ideas you may not have before. In keeping with this theme I would like to bring up the concept of infinity, both within and without.

      Most people are familiar with the idea that the universe goes on forever. But have you also considered the opposite side of this concept--the infinite within.  Think of the smallest thing you can imagine--an atom. But as you know an atom is composed of even smaller parts--electrons, protons, and neutrons. And these parts are composed of even smaller parts still, ad infinitum.

     And so here we stand, somewhere in the middle of an infinitely expanding universe made up of infinitely smaller parts. Just think about that for a minute....Of course it is like asking an ant to solve a calculus equation, it does not have the necessary mental faculties to do so. Likewise, we are missing the faculties necessary to comprehend this concept of an infinitely small and infinitely large universe. We can only think in terms of a beginning and an end. However, what we can do to benefit from this concept is put our lives in perspective. Sometimes we can think too highly of ourselves and we would do well to consider we are only but a speck of matter in an infinite universe. Conversely, if we think too low of ourselves, we can be encouraged by realizing that no matter how insignificant we feel, the universe could not be the universe it is without us.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Emperor's New Book

Many are familiar with the fable, The Emperor's New Clothes, in which an emperor and his royal subjects are taught the ignorance of blindly following other's just because an "Authority" has deemed something as worthy of distinction and admiration. Yet it took the innocence of a young child, who had not yet been corrupted by such conditioning, to point out the obvious fact that the emperor was not wearing the best and latest in fashion, and that he was indeed naked!

     I would like to make an analogy of this story with the publishing industry. For the most part we can be assured that well-respected major publishing companies will not publish bad quality books. They will have been scrutinized thoroughly by editors, and corrections and revisions will be made before the final product is released for sale. However, does this mean that every book on the shelf of bookstores is a good quality book? I can tell you that I have seen books on shelves in major bookstores that made me wonder how on earth such nonsense was deemed worthy of publishing. And it is rare if I can read any book, irrespective of publisher, without catching at least one error, whether it is punctuation, grammar, or typo. Granted there are a lot of indie published books that are of low quality and lack the refinement of a professional editing staff, however, there are quite a few that I have read that are of a caliber equal to, if not better than, some of the major published books I have read.

      As an indie author myself it may seem I would be biased against major publishers, however, this is not the case. I would love to have my work picked up by a reputable major publisher and enjoy the marketing influence they have to better distribute my work. My point in writing this article is to combat the stigma that surrounds indie published work, and to keep readers from falling for the fallacy that only books that are distributed by major publishers are worth reading. True, some indie books have very simplistic looking covers, and your first reaction is to think that it is also indicative of the quality of writing within. But I would argue that you should not automatically dismiss a book because it is not found on the shelves of major bookstores. You may be passing up some of the best stories you will ever read that have just not yet had the opportunity to be recognized by major publishers and received the benefit of their professional cover design artists. That being said, I would like to offer this challenge: make your next book purchase that of an unknown author (it doesn't have to be my book) and see if you are not pleasantly surprised.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

1 day is as 1,000 years, and a 1,000 years are as 1 day.

The average life expectancy is approximately 78 years. When you are young that seems like a very long time, but as you get older it seems to go faster and faster. By the time you are half way there you start to take stalk of your life and evaluate your accomplishments. For many these accomplishments are in terms of educational and career success, house and car purchase, marriage and kids. But what if the the average life expectancy were 40 years? 30 or 20 years? How would this affect our priorities and the criteria for which we measure success? As the life expectancy decreases obviously accomplishments that would take relatively longer to achieve, like successful career achievements, would become less and less obtainable, until finally, in the extreme case, if life expectancy reached below reproductive age, the species would become extinct.  Some insects, like the fruit fly, only have a life span of 2 weeks, so they just have enough time to eat, mate, and lay eggs before they die and the cycle is repeated.

Therefore, as life expectancy decreases we come to the most basic achievement--the propagation of the species. However, what if we were to move toward the opposite end of the spectrum? What would become more important as the life expectancy increased? Naturally, if we have more time available to us we could accomplish more things. But what would  be the ultimate accomplishment if we were given a hypothetical life expectancy of 1000 years? 10,000 years? Infinite? If we could live so long that we have seen and done everything there is to be done, what would we consider to be the ultimate achievement? World peace? Given the nature of humanity, and as evidenced by thousands of years, this will never be achieved. But let us be optimistic and say that it is possible and we achieve it, then what? Suppose we discover the answer to "Why are we here?" If that could ever be answered and we have achieved it, then what else is there to work towards? If all is accomplished and we live the rest of eternity forever happy, would that not get boring?

 This brings me to the point of this hypothetical consideration of life expectancy. Without something to look forward to each day, and without obstacles to overcome to obtain them, what is the point of life? Therefor, do not concern yourself over how many years you have to live or the strife you endure during the years you have. Rather, enjoy and be thankful for each day, for each day is an accomplishment in itself and the more strife that is overcome, the greater the accomplishment.

Friday, September 16, 2011

And that is why I ALWAYS CARRY A PEN...

          Yes, the famous last words of an epiphany's demise. It almost never fails, you are driving in your car, or you are walking through the aisles of the supermarket and all of a sudden it comes to you! The subconscious thoughts that continually float in your brain connecting in infinite combinations finally align into an idea that is so profound you think, "That's it!" It is the perfect solution to a problem, or an idea for a great invention, or a line that would work great in your novel. The idea is so wonderful you think, "There is no way I can forget this, I'll just write it down when I get home."

You finish shopping and then stand in the long line at the counter as the cashier is waiting for the manager to void a purchase. The next person in line writes a check and pulls out their coupons. Three more people to go and now you are actually contemplating buying one of the impulse items displayed next to the checkout. Finally, its your turn and you go to pull out your card to demonstrate how easy a purchase can be, when you realize in sudden horror that you left your card at home when you made your last online purchase.

        On the drive home you berate yourself for being so forgetful. You get out of the car and you start you think, "Wasn't there something I was going to..." Just then your child comes running out of the house and frantically relates how his homework paper is due tomorrow and he has just started and needs your help! You warn your child again, "How many times have I told you not procrastinate!" After you help your child with their paper, and tell them next time they better not put things off till the last moment, you start to remember "oh, ya that reminds me I was going to..." Your spouse comes into the room, "Honey, I got a babysitter get dressed I am taking you out to eat at your favorite restaurant!" "That's great dear! Ok I'll start getting ready."

You go to your room and start to get changed. Perhaps only 2 hours have passed since the synapses in your brain revealed to you the idea that was so good that there was no way to forget it and you think, "Oh ya let me write down that idea I had before I...Wait! Oh Noooooo!" And that is why I AlWAYS CARRY A PEN.

Monday, September 12, 2011


As authors we might also compare ourselves to mathematicians.  The analogy can be made in that both writers and mathematicians use symbols to create formulas that will predict or explain an occurrence. Where they differ are the means in which they use to create these formulas. While mathematicians use numbers and symbols to derive formulas to explain natural laws of the universe, writers use words to compose formulas that will elicit emotion.  Both mathematicians and writers must be creative in discovering these formulas, however, the mathematician is governed by objective rules and laws that must be followed, as science is defined in exact measurable units.

Writers too must adhere to a certain degree of accepted spelling, grammatical and punctuation rules, but we have been granted more subjectivity by the issuance of what is termed a “poetic license.”  If a mathematician states that 2+2=5 we can indisputably prove him wrong. However, a writer can purposefully compose a sentence that does not adhere exactly to spelling, grammatical and punctuation rules so as to elicit an emotional response that may not have been possible to do otherwise.  It may not have the desired emotional effect on everyone, but it could not be proven that it was composed incorrectly, only that to some it was not the right combination of words to elicit the desired response that was brought about in others.  With this in mind, my fellow wordematicians, let us not fear to be bold as we exercise our creativity, for we may create worlds in which 2+2 does in fact equal 5, and no one can prove us wrong!  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Is Altruism just a synonym for Selfishness?

      A relatively unknown but controversial work of Mark Twain's is a short Socratic style book entitled What is Man? Twain struggled with himself for 20 years before publishing it because of its controversial nature. In effect he was making the argument that there is no such thing as an altruistic deed, i.e. a helpful action done for someone else with no expectation for recognition or return favor. Instead Twain believed that whatever good deed we perform it is done with selfish intent whether we are consciously aware of it or not.  "From cradle to the grave a man never does a single thing which has any FIRST AND FOREMOST object but one - to secure peace of mind and spiritual comfort for HIMSELF."

 He gives the following scenario as an example , "A man is waiting at a bus station to reach home in the middle of a storm. A gray-haired ragged old homeless woman approaches him and requests for help. He ponders over for a few seconds and gives her his last dollar. He then walks home in the middle of a storm. On the way home his heart is singing with joy because he did something good. When he reaches home he proudly recounts his tale of charity and earns the respect and affection of his family. He has a hearty dinner and sleeps well that night, knowing how benevolent he has been to the old lady. That is a very good return on an investment of one dollar." Therefore, what Twain concludes is that though it was in fact a good deed the man performed, the real reason the man gave the old lady his fare is because if he didn't he would suffer a guilty conscience and so he did it to spare his peace of mind, not to mention the praise he received from his family. Thus, in fact it was a selfish act.

      The idea that there is no such thing as an altruistic act would seem to cast a dark shadow on humanity as we think of any charitable or friendly act we have done can be attributed not solely to our wish to be a good person and help others, but rather to our innate desire to preserve our own peace of mind and sense of worth in the eyes of others. Does this mean we should not try to be selfless and help others in need? Of course not, but it does give us more insight into human motivations--namely, we are all selfish, greedy bastards at heart:) Yet, if we can help others and it happens to help our peace of mind and feeling of worth then it is a win-win situation and we all go home happy!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Traveling Box (sestina)

     This sestina appears in my book, The Leaf Catcher, and it describes how Corliss came in possession of the Traveling Box:

“I happened upon a minstrel, his health looking poor;
‘twas a stormy night and I took him in when no one else would.
He was very thankful and bestowed upon me a box,
assuring me ‘twas no ordinary container; it was magical.
‘Put into it what you do not possess
and it will be given back to you in kind.’

He said there was no other like it of its kind.
I asked him why he did not sell it since he was so poor.
And he replied that no greater gift may one possess
than the gift one receives when giving; that whosoever would
understand this would benefit most from the box’s magic.
 Otherwise it was nothing more than a mere box.

I graciously accepted, and asked how I was to use the box.
He foretold ‘twould be revealed to me by another who was kind,
and then he disappeared like magic.
Over and over the riddle did I pore,
but try as hard as I would,
the knowledge of how to use it, I could not possess.

I wondered at the mystery it possessed.
It truly seemed like a common box,
nine inches square and made of cedar wood,
no different than any other box of its kind,
except for one thing; whenever I tried to pour
anything into it, it was denied by its magic.

What was the point of this magic?
Why would anyone wish to possess
such a container that you could not pour
anything into? There must be some purpose to this box.
 I’ve been waiting for the prophesied one to tell me what kind
of contents could be placed within its wood.

Years went by and I began to wonder if anyone would
 ever appear to reveal the secret of its magic.
The minstrel had said ‘twould be one who is kind,
yet I have since met with many good people and none possessed
the answer to the secret of the box.
Over many ancient books have I pored,

but nothing of its kind was mentioned, nor would
it seem possible I could ever pour anything past the magic
that possesses the box.”